Author: Nikita Khrushchev
Location: Moscow, Russia
Occasion: The 20th congress of the Communist party of the USSR
This speech was important as far as it marked the end of the era of Stalinism. It was a secret speech, and only the members of the Party knew about its content. Just like any political speech, this one was well-thought and organized. It aimed to make the utmost impression on its listeners by providing shocking information about Soviet leader who was praised and extolled as the Father of Nation. Khrushchev realized that the new leader who can take the lead after Stalin’s death should be brave and persistent. Khrushchev had to belittle Stalin and his political allies in order to praise oneself and his followers. He took his chance and succeeded.
Khrushchev exposed the unseemly Stalin’s policy of creating the cult of individual. Enlisting Lenin’s statements about Stalin’s behavior and character, Khrushchev reminded the terror and repressions which could have resulted from Stalin’s constant suspicions. He criticized Stalin’s actions in political and personal terms. It should be stated that this speech could be delivered only after Stalin’s death. The audience reacted cautiously, because the fear of repressions was still strong. People were afraid of changes which could have turned out to be worse than Stalin’s regime. This fear of repressions predominated in the society for long years after Stalin’s death. However, the party line changed after the speech, and new information about Stalin appeared. The period of Khrushchev’s rule was called as “Khrushchev’s thaw” (Taubman 2004). Krushchev tried to direct the party towards Leninism as opposed to Stalinism.
Text of the Speech
Comrades! In the party central committee’s report at the 20th congress and in a number of speeches by delegates to the congress a lot has been said about the cult of the individual. After Stalin’s death, the central committee began explaining that it is foreign to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism to elevate one person, to transform him into a superman possessing supernatural characteristics, akin to those of a god. Such a man supposedly knows everything, sees everything, thinks for everyone, can do anything, is infallible in his behavior.
Such a belief about a man, and specifically about Stalin, was cultivated among us for many years. The objective of this report is not a thorough evaluation of Stalin’s life and activity. Concerning Stalin’s merits, an entirely sufficient number of books, pamphlets and studies had already been written in his lifetime. Stalin’s role in the execution of the socialist revolution, in the civil war, and in the construction of socialism is universally known.
At present, we are concerned with how the cult of Stalin has been gradually growing, the cult which became the source of a whole series of exceedingly serious perversions of party principles, of party democracy, of revolutionary legality. The central committee considers it absolutely necessary to make material pertaining to this matter available to the 20th congress.
The great modesty of the genius of the revolution, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, is known. Lenin always stressed the role of the people as the creator of history. Lenin mercilessly stigmatised every manifestation of the cult of the individual. Lenin never imposed his views by force. He tried to convince. He patiently explained his opinions to others.
Lenin detected in Stalin those negative characteristics which resulted later in grave consequences. Fearing the future fate of the of the Soviet nation, Lenin pointed out that it was necessary to consider transferring Stalin from the position of general secretary because Stalin did not have a proper attitude toward his comrades.
In 1922 Vladimir Ilyich wrote: “After taking over the position of general secretary, comrade Stalin accumulated immeasurable power in his hands and I am not certain whether he will be always able to use this power with the required care.”
Vladimir Ilyich said: “I propose that the comrades consider the method by which Stalin would be removed from this position and by which another man would be selected for it, a man who, above all, would differ from Stalin in only one quality, namely, greater tolerance, greater loyalty, greater kindness.”
Comrades! The party congress should become acquainted with new documents, which confirm Stalin’s character. In March 1923, Lenin sent Stalin the following letter: “Dear comrade Stalin! You permitted yourself a rude summons of my wife to the telephone and a rude reprimand of her. Despite the fact that she told you that she agreed to forget what was said, I have no intention to forget so easily.” Comrades! I will not comment on these documents. They speak eloquently for themselves.
As later events have proven, Lenin’s anxiety was justified. Stalin, who absolutely did not tolerate collegiality in leadership and in work, acted not through persuasion, but by imposing his concepts and demanding absolute submission to his opinion. Stalin originated the concept “enemy of the people”. This term automatically made it unnecessary that the ideological errors of a man be proven. It made possible the use of the cruellest repression, against anyone who in any way disagreed with Stalin, against those who were only suspected of hostile intent, against those who had bad reputations.
On the whole, the only proof of guilt actually used was the “confession” of the accused himself. “Confessions” were acquired through physical pressures. Innocent individuals – who in the past had defended the party line – became victims. Mass arrests and deportations of many thousands of people, execution without trial and without normal investigation created conditions of insecurity, fear and even desperation.
Vladimir Ilyich demanded uncompromising dealings with the enemies of the revolution. Lenin used such methods, however, only against actual class enemies and not against those who blunder. Stalin, on the other hand, used extreme methods and mass repressions at a time when the revolution was already victorious. During Lenin’s life, party congresses were convened regularly. Lenin considered it absolutely necessary that the party discuss at length all questions bearing on the development of government. After Lenin’s death, Stalin trampled on the principle of collective party leadership. Of the 139 members and candidates of the central committee who were elected at the 17th congress, 98 persons, 70%, were arrested and shot. It is inconceivable that a congress so composed could have elected a central committee in which a majority would prove to be enemies of the party. Delegates were active participants in the building of our socialist state; many of them suffered and fought during the pre-revolutionary years; they fought their enemies valiantly and often nervelessly looked into the face of death.
How, then, can we believe that such people had joined the camps of the enemies of socialism? This was the result of the abuse of power by Stalin. On the evening of December 1 1934 on Stalin’s initiative, the secretary of the presidium signed the following directive: “1. Investigative agencies are directed to speed up the cases of those accused of acts of terror; 2. Judicial organs are directed not to hold up execution in order to consider pardon; 3. The organs of the commissariat of internal affairs are directed to execute the death sentences immediately after the passage of sentences.” This directive became the basis for mass acts of abuse. The accused were deprived of any possibility that their cases might be re-examined, even when they stated before the court that their “confessions” were secured by force.
Lenin taught that the application of revolutionary violence is necessitated by the resistance of the exploiting classes, and this referred to the era when the exploiting classes existed and were powerful. As soon as the nation’s political situation had improved, when in January 1920 the Red Army took Rostov, Lenin gave instructions to stop mass terror and to abolish the death penalty. Stalin deviated from these precepts. Terror was actually directed not at the remnants of the defeated exploiting classes but against the honest workers of the party; against them were made lying, slanderous and absurd accusations. Mass repressions contributed to the spreading of unhealthy suspicion, and sowed distrust among communists.
Stalin was a very distrustful man, sickly suspicious. He could look at a man and say: “Why are your eyes so shifty today?” or “Why are you turning so much today and avoiding to look me directly in the eyes?” The sickly suspicion created in him a general distrust. Everywhere and in everything he saw “enemies”, “two-facers” and “spies”. Stalin dispatched a coded telegram on January 20 1939 to the committee secretaries of provinces and regions. This telegram stated: “It is known that all bourgeois intelligence services use methods of physical influence against representatives of the socialist proletariat. The question arises as to why the socialist intelligence service should be more humanitarian against the mad agents of the bourgeoisie. The central committee considers that physical pressure should be used obligatorily against known enemies of the people.” Thus, Stalin sanctioned the most brutal violation of socialist legality, torture and oppression.
The power accumulated in the hands of one person, Stalin, led to serious consequences during the great patriotic war. When we look at many of our novels, films and historical-scientific studies, the role of Stalin in the patriotic war appears to be entirely improbable. Stalin had foreseen everything. The epic victory is ascribed as being completely due to the strategic genius of Stalin. What are the facts of this matter? Stalin advanced the thesis that our nation experienced an “unexpected” attack by the Germans. But, comrades, this is completely untrue. As soon as Hitler came to power he assigned to himself the task of liquidating communism. The fascists were saying this openly. They did not hide their plans.
Despite grave warnings, the necessary steps were not taken to prepare. We paid with great losses – until our generals succeeded in altering the situation. Stalin tried to inculcate the notion that the victories gained by the Soviet nation were all due to the courage, daring, and genius of Stalin and of no one else. Let us take our military films. They make us feel sick. Let us recall The Fall of Berlin. Here only Stalin acts. He issues orders in a hall in which there are many empty chairs. And where is the military command? Where is the politburo? Where is the government? What are they doing, and with what are they engaged? There is nothing about them in the film.
Stalin acts for everybody, he does not reckon with anyone. He asks no one for advice. Everything is shown to the people in this false light. Why? To surround Stalin with glory – contrary to historical truth. Not Stalin, but the party as a whole, the Soviet government, our heroic army, its talented leaders and brave soldiers, the whole Soviet nation – these are the ones who assured victory in the great patriotic war. The magnificent, heroic deeds of hundreds of millions of people of the east and of the west during the fight against the threat of fascist subjugation which loomed before us will live for centuries, for millennia in the memory of thankful humanity.
Comrades! The cult of the individual acquired such monstrous size chiefly because Stalin himself supported the glorification of his own person. The edition of his short biography, which was published in 1948, is an expression of the most dissolute flattery, approved and edited by Stalin personally. He marked the very places where he thought that the praise of his services was insufficient. Here are some examples characterising Stalin’s activity, added in Stalin’s own hand, “The guiding force of the party and the state was comrade Stalin”. Thus writes Stalin himself! Then he adds: “Although he performed his tasks as leader of the people with consummate skill, Stalin never allowed his work to be marred by the slightest hint of vanity, conceit or self-adulation.” Where and when could a leader so praise himself?
Comrades! The cult of the individual brought about rude violation of party democracy, sterile administration, deviations of all sorts, cover-ups of shortcomings, and varnishings of reality. Our nation bore forth many flatterers and specialists in false optimism and deceit.
Some comrades may ask us: Where were the members of the politburo? Why did they not assert themselves against the cult of the individual in time? And why is this being done only now? First of all, members of the politburo viewed these matters in a different way at different times. Initially, many backed Stalin actively because he was one of the strongest Marxists and his logic, his strength and his will greatly influenced party work. After Lenin’s death, especially during the first years, Stalin actively fought for Leninism against the enemies of Leninist theory and against those who deviated. At that time the party had to fight those who tried to lead the country away from the correct Leninist path. It had to fight Trotskyites, Zinovievites and rightists, and bourgeois nationalists. This fight was indispensable. Later, however, Stalin began to fight honest Soviet people. Attempts to oppose groundless suspicions and charges resulted in the opponent’s falling victim to the repression.
Comrades! So as not to repeat errors of the past, the central committee has declared itself resolutely against the cult of the individual. We consider that Stalin was extolled to excess. However, in the past Stalin undoubtedly performed great services to the party, to the working class and to the international workers’ movement. Comrades! Lenin had often stressed that modesty is an absolutely integral part of a real Bolshevik. Lenin himself was the living personification of the greatest modesty. We cannot say that we have been following this Leninist example in all respects. We must correct this. But this should be done calmly. We cannot let this matter get out of the party, especially not to the press. It is for this reason that we are considering it here at a closed congress session. We should not give ammunition to the enemy; we should not wash our dirty linen before their eyes.
Comrades! We must abolish the cult of the individual once and for all. We must correct the views connected with the cult in history, philosophy and sciences, and continue systematically the work done by the party’s central committee during the last years, a work characterised by collective leadership and self-criticism.
Comrades! The 20th congress of the Communist party of the Soviet Union has manifested with a new strength the unshakable unity of our party, its cohesiveness around the central committee, its resolute will to accomplish the great task of building communism. And the fact that we present in all their ramifications the basic problems of overcoming the cult of the individual is evidence of the great moral and political strength of our party. We are absolutely certain that our party, armed with the historical resolutions of the 20th congress, will lead the Soviet people along the Leninist path to new successes, to new victories. Long live the victorious banner of our party – Leninism!